TYPES OF ETHICAL THEORY.'
DR. MARTTNEAll'S account of the Platonic system is not only a very remarkable piece of condensation, but in many respects an original study, and an original study by a man who has thoroughly mastered the chief German commentaries on Plato. He brings out very powerfully the leading feature in the Platonic system, namely, the Greek conception of a necessary intellectual constitution of the universe, above, and, so to speak, behind, God, an ideal necessity within which God himself is only a moving, modifying power, providing, as it were, the momentum which alone, in an otherwise unchangeable universe, renders change and creation possible. We do not feel any doubt that there was some inconsistency in Plato's thought—inconsistency, we mean, in first regarding all the constitutive ideas of the • Types of Rthieal Theory. By James Martineau, D.D., LL.D., Principal of Manchester New College. London. 2 vols. Oxford Clarendon Press.
universe as independent of any mind, and then identifying "mind" with one of those ideas, namely, the idea of "cause," and also, it appears, of "good,"—and in ascribing to it, under this special head, th3 moving force which had been denied to all other constitutive ideas. But this only shows how much Plato was possessed with the Greek conception of some final necessity, distinct from the supreme mind, as overruling that mind, and how impossible he found it, either to emancipate himself from that notion, or fully to reconcile with it the beneficent creative power which he found himself compelled to recognise. Dr. Ma-tinean sums up the doctrine of Plato on this head in the following passage :—
"Hitherto we have found Plato identifying Cause with Mind : we ri.nst now add that he identifies Mind with the Good ; and that the good' is with him the apex and crown of the system of ideas.' The first of these positions is no matter of inference, but is laid down totidem verbis. After Philebus, in the dialogue that bears his name, has been worsted in his advocacy of 'pleasure' as identical with 'good,' Socrates, who represents the counter-claim of Mind, snms up thus : think it then sufficiently proved that Philebus's goddess is not to be considered as identical with the good.' Philebus retorts, 'Neither is your Mind, Socrates, the good ; the same exception will be taken to it.' Socrates answers : 'Perhaps so, Philebus, to my mind ; but not to the true and divine Mind, the case is different there.' Nor is it only under its name of 'Mind' that this subject is identified with the good :' under its other name of ' Cause ' the process is repeated. In the latter part of the dialogue, Socrates, unable to define the essence of the good' in its absoluteness, determines it step by step through three of its contents, Beauty, Symmetry, Truth: and winds up with the words, If then we cannot seize "the good" by chasing it with one idea, yet when we have caught it by the help of three,—beauty, symmetry, truth,—we may say that we have the best right to treat it as Cause of the mingled elements, and may affirm that it proves itself such precisely in that it is good.' The evidence of the second position, that the good' is the ultimate pinnacle of the range of ideas,' is contained in some highly characteristic passages of the Republic. The first which I shall quote might perhaps suffice; for it directly affirms the proposition to be established : 'God knows whether it be true; but this is what is evident to me ; in the sphere of the known the idea of the Good is ultimate and needs an effort to be seen : but, once seen, compels tbe conclusion that here is the cause, for all things else, of whatever is beautiful and right : in the visible world, parent of light and of its lord; in the intellectual world, bearing itself the lordship and from itself supplying truth and mind. And this it is which must fix the eye of one who is to act with wisdom in private or in public life.' These remarkable words, besides determining the place of the Good' as the culminating ritios, affirm its dynamic causality no less clearly than its logical supremacy ; for it is the author oklight and of the sun, over and above being the absolute original of all particular truth, beauty, and right. If, under the loose cover of the word aivla, the idea of the Good could thus play the double part of physical cause and rational ground, we may well believe Aristotle's report that Plato identified it with the absolute One ; for if it can unify those dissimilar things, it deserves no less. But every system of monism has to break a number of antitheses which cling to the very nature of human thought ; and Plato's first principle has yet a harder feat to perform, in being at once itself and another, the apprehender of troth and the truth apprehended, the object which is not the subject and the subject which is not the object. For this achievement he lends it the aid of his happiest imagination, and maintains that it has only to do what the sun constantly effects, in that it supplies both terms of the relation between vision and the visible. The idea of the Good, then, you are to say, is that which imparts truth to the objects known, and faculty to the knower : you are to consider it as the cause at. once of knowledge and of truth as known. And, beautiful as are these two,—knowledge and truth,—this their Cause you will rightly deem other and fairer than they. Yet, just as light and vision were before rightly deemed by us sunlike without being the sun, so now are these two rightly referred to the type of the Good without being the Good : for that a place must be reserved of yet higher honour.' Nor do the resources of this ingenious analogy stop here : the San has other functions than to illuminate; and the Idea of the Good than to enlighten: from each goes forth a creative energy over a boundless field beyond. The Sun, I think you will say, imparts to visible things not only their visibility, but also their genesis and growth and nurture, without being itself a genesis; and so, we must say, it is the Good which imparts to things known not only their susceptibility of being known, bat also their existence and their essence, though the Good is not itself an essence, but far transcends essence in venerableness and power.' Here, then, it is evident, this august principle is invested with not only a primacy among the ideas (die/yip-out ointias, as Aristotle calls them), but with a causality withheld from all the rest as its progeny,—the derived essences of things. Relatively to them, as a class, it holds an exceptional position; and when we ask, 'is it one of them, or is it beyond them ?' the answer must be, it is both :' it is one of them, by their participation of its being; it is beyond them, by its exclusive spontaneity of power. When we assemble together the predicates which, one by one, have gathered upon the Idea of the Good, of subjective unity, of eternal reality, of discriminative thought, of affinity with beauty, symmetry, and right, and of power to realise them in the birth and growth of things, we cannot be surprised to find this supreme (Mos assuming the Divine name. Intellect and causality directed upon the Good, and occupying the absolute headship of all, must be spoken of, when fused into one conception, in terms of intending thought, will, and character, and become interchangeable with the idea of God."
And in the very remarkable comparison which Dr. Martineau draws between Plato's notion of the ideal State and the RomanCatholic conception of the Church, we find another illustration of Plato's conviction that the function of investing human beings with intellectual and moral qualities is one that we must refer to the beneficent action of a divine mind, revealing to us " ideas " which have no power to reveal themselves :—
" Once allow that the universe is a struggle of divine thought and beauty to express itself by conquering negation and difficulty ; that society is to be the copy and counterpart of the idea and method of the universe ; and the individual again to be the reproduction of society in little ; and it follows that the macrocosm is entitled to dispose of the microcosm ; that natural beauty and perfection must determine the personal and ethical; and that the individual can acquire no rights and plead no duties against the universal. The unrelenting rigour with which the Republic carries out this idea constitutes its great value ; and while inevitably producing details repugnant to feelings that start from the opposite end, attests the unshrinking earnestness of the author. With this general remark I must be almost content in dealing with a subject too large for more special criticism. The outline of Plato's construction of his ideal society is well known. As the universe is a triad of Intellect, Soul, and Matter ; and as the individual man is composed of Reason, Impulse, and Sense; so the commonwealth must be constituted of three classes; the guardians, composed of gold (embodiment of its thought); the warriors, of silver (who express its courage) ; and the industrious, of brass (who represent and provide its physical and sentient good). Each of these is to be the origin and treasury of an appropriate virtue : the first, of wisdom ; the second, of high spirit ; the third, of self-restraint and moderation ; and to secure the respective production of these, all the threads of causation which draw them forth are to be gathered up into the band of Law Plato's State indeed presents, amid undeniable contrasts, some curious points of analogy with the hierarchical form of the Christian Church. Both aim at the realisation of a divine idea in human life through the framework of a social organism. Both regard this divine element as having its unity in the corporate society, by affiliation with which each becomes at, once its participant and organ. Both agree in treating the personal nature of individuals left to themselves as wild and ruinous, and requiring its subjection, if possible by internal surrender, if not by external obedience, to the righteousness embodied in the whole. When Plato says that if a multitude cannot be brought to knew and serve holiness itself, it is well for them to do it at second hand by obeying holy men, we seem to hear the very voice of a medireval priest. The systems again concur in leaving the desires of the individual most free in the class which is least in esteem ; and in demanding the completest self-abnegation where there is the highest trust of dignity and power. Nay, the very sacrifices by which Plato would ward off temptation from his 4niAarter are akin to those which Catholicism has enforced upon her priests, viz., the foregoing of domestic life,—the relinquishment of private property,—the surrender of all voice in the selection of the personal position. The forcible repression of private claims on behalf of a corporate personality, the allowance of them only in so far as they give individualised expression to the idea of the whole, the creation of distinct classes to be living representatives of the divine type in its several parts and functions, betrays the origin of the Roman Catholic Church from the same spiritual Realism which constructed the Republic of Plato : as his commonwealth was the earthly embodiment of a celestial and universal righteousness, so was the Church the visible body of the invisible and heavenly Christ,—at once his witness and abode : and as in the former case each particular man derived all his worth and significance from his intertexture with the system, apart from which he became detached from the eternal Justice, so in the latter did each one receive his sacred mark through baptismal inauguration, without which he remained an alien from grace; and drew his moral nourishment and life from the Church, which superinduced upon his helpless and lower self a higher spiritual nature. Hegel justly contrasts this relentless subjugation of the individual, into which Plato was in part provoked by the corruption of Greek cities through the wantonness of private passions, with the principle of Christianity which raises every single soul to an infinite importance, and so gives a religious inspiration to the claims of demooratie equality. But this principle after all represents only one aide of Christianity, though the side most familiar to Protestants ; and to complete it we must add the Catholic conception, that the individual soul first finds her divine dignity and receives the seal of consecration, when obediently gathered into the great community which represents the heavenly rule on earth. On this side there is no contrast, but the closest analogy, between the Platonio and the Christian notion ; and it is by embodying this feeling that Roman Catholicism so curiously forms the middle term between the ancient and the modern systems of society and polity,—the one dealing with individuals as organs and media of a common life entitled to priority,— the other constituting a state by the aggregation of individuals, who bring to it their antecedent ends and constrain it to work them out."
Everywhere in the Platonic system you see that Plato's main conception of the constitution of the universe, is that of fixed inexorable types of being, almost beyond our reach, types in which so evanescent a creature as man can only be brought to share at all by virtue of the creative activity of a supreme goodness which originates the effort to give us some glimpse of the absolute world of ideas. He regarded the earthly and transient only as a kind of non-existence, the divine and permanent as the only true existence, and therefore he held that the active principle which makes the transient earthly being aspire to permanent
and divine life, could not properly be classed with either one or the other, since while it included the very essence of goodness, it was also the cause of change. No one has brought out this great characteristic struggle in Plato's mind between his faith in the immutable and his reverence for the power which endows mutable mortals with love for immutability, with so much force as Dr. Martineau.
In his dealings with the transition from the noble, transcendental Pantheism of Plato to the much less noble, immanent Pantheism of Spinoza, Dr. Martineau is careful to show us how the doctrine which has had so enormous an influence over modern philosophy,—a doctrine, perhaps, suggested by mathematical science,—that clearness is the test of truth, has sprang up. Falseness is regarded by the school of Descartes and Spinoza as a result of acquiescing in confusion, and of the indolence which assumes that something is understood before it really is understood :—
"In the assertion of Free-will we have a further important characteristic of Descartes' doctrine, which is used by him in a most characteristic way. He carries it with him into his intellectual philosophy, to explain the nature of error ; he leaves it behind him in his ethical theory, which assumes the form, not of a doctrine of Duty, but only of a doctrine of Good ; thus putting into it an illusory meaning, and missing its real significance. We fall into errors, he supposes, because our understanding is limited and our will indefinite ; that is, we choose to affirm or deny far beyond the range of our clear and distinct ideas : where the terms of a possible predication are not yet free from confusion in the understanding, the will rashly puts them together into a proposition which has only a chance of truth. It is to be observed that between understanding and will Descartes recognises no distinction of kind, but only this inequality of range : every affirmation is volition, and every volition is affirmation ; but we do not credit the understanding with it except where truth is secured by clear and distinct conceptions."
Malebranche inculcated the same doctrine in a much nobler form :—
" Liberty of mind consists in suspending assent and arresting the attention of the will, till the light of evidence leaves no option to the understanding. In matters of speculative truth, it is not difficult to exercise this virtue; for there the ideas are distinct and seen through a translucent medium. But, in affairs of practical morals, they are in themselves set apart by finer gradations, and are viewed through an atmosphere tremulous with feeling or clouded by passion. So that there is strong temptation to let interest decide while reason pauses, and to loose the curb on the impatient will. When this is the case, we are almost sure to fall into error ; for we judge, not because we see, but only because we will ; the judgment is our own work, and not from the act of God within us ; it is a leap in the dark, not a walking in the light. And the more we are pressed upon by social influence, and have the din of chance opinion ever in our ears, the more needful and yet the harder is it to carry every question to the retreats of rational reflection, where alone it can be truly solved. Whoever insists on doing so may lose the suffrages of the hour, but shall gain an unwasting treasure. `Let a man spend but a single year in intercourse with the world, hearing all that is said, and putting faith in none of it, retiring into himself, moment by moment, to listen whether the truth within bolds the same language, and always suspending his assent until the light appears; and him shall I deem more learned than Aristotle, wiser than Socrates, more enlightened than the divine Plato. The facility which he will have in meditating and suspending his assent, I reckon higher than all the virtues of the greatest men of pagan antiquity ; for if the soil which he cultivates is not ungrateful, he will have gained by his labour more strength and liberty of mind than one can well imagine. What a difference there is between reason and opinion ; between the lord of the inner soul who convinces by evidence, and the men who persuade by instinct, by gesture, by tone, by air and manner ; between men at once deceivers and deceived, and the eternal wisdom, the truth itself ! Let those who have not reflected on these things pass their censure on me, and begin it by renouncing Reason.'"
Spinoza, who, like Malebranche, derived his philosophy in the first instance from Descartes, held much the same view. Dr. Martineau gives us a brief account of it in the following words :—
"In Spinoza's conception of human nature there is an occasional wavering which has its explanation in the foregoing threefold distribution of ideas. In order to include the whole, the essence of man is said to be constituted of both adequate and inadequate ideas ; and this account holds of him as he stands in actual experience. But then, so regarded, he is the product of two factors, viz., his inward nature, as a mode of the Divine attributes, and the finite causes external to him, that limit and variously control him. So far as he is subject to the latter, be is under a foreign influence, and is only partially himself. And this repressive agency has its field entirely in the imagination and its confused inadequate ideas; so that, after all, this area and its contents appear not properly reckoned as a province of his personality ; they belong to the surroundings of his existence, not to the contents of his true essence : if that essence were free to realise itself with unstinted expression, it would have no alloy of confused and inadequate ideas, but would emerge into pure intellectual light. Thus, there is a difference between the essence of the human mind as it might be, if relieved of controlling conditions, and as it is in its subjection to them ; and it is spoken of in both ways, sometimes with inclusion, at others with exclusion, of the negative element from the imagination."
It is obvious at once that the tendency of such a view of truth and error as this, is to separate the discernment of truth entirely from the affections ; and, of course, the more this view was insisted on, the more the virtues on which Spinoza insisted were included in what we may call the virtue of benignant intellectual condescension to the illusions of mankind, as errors from which it was impossible that the multitude should be free, and which, therefore, the wise man must overlook as inevitable and quite undeserving of either blame or anger.
We see the same mistaken identification of error, and the passions which error causes, with human imagination, pervading everywhere the system of Comte, and carried out in that system to an even more complete conclusion, for Comte ignores the existence of all that man has usually called realities, and asserts that appearances are the only realities. Nay, so far does he go that he dismisses the idea of " cause " and of " force " as pure illusions, because, if you discriminate between the cause and the antecedent, or between the " force " and the motion which it is supposed to produce, you have to assign some invisible and metaphysical conception, as that which distinguishes " cause " from "antecedent," and "force" from motion or velocity. But how unable Comte was really to ignore that which he assured all the world that he did ignore, has never been better or more subtly proved than in the passage in which Dr. Martineau descants on Comte's doctrine that psychology is not a science, because all psychological functions are derivative from the cerebral functions. Dr. Martineau presses home the question what this derivativeness really means, in a passage which shows conclusively that Comte did really recognise the cerebral as cause of the mental changes, in a sense in which he did not believe the anterior mental change to be the cause of the consequent mental changes. In other words, Comte really accepted the idea of cause as distinguished from antecedent, even while he denied that we had such an idea at all. The following passage seems to us one rarely equalled in our philosophical literature for the subtlety of its analysis :— "Reserving the direct vindication of self-reflection for future chapters on Psychological Ethics, I gladly leave the case at present to rest upon the cautions but adequate defences of Stuart Mill and Lewes, both of whom, notwithstanding their admiration for Comte, declined to surrender the whole literature of mental and logical philosophy to the fear of his wrath. One remark only I would add to Mill's effective criticism. To Comte's demand that what is called psychology' should be flung as mere cerebral function into the physiology of the brain, inasmuch as all its uniformities are derivative from molecular changes there, he replies that we are hardly entitled to assume this, so long as we are far more in the dark about the molecular changes than about the mental uniformities, and that the latter, being independently ascertainable and of serious concern to us, are meanwhile a proper object of separate study. As a provisional plea, deriving its force from the present condition of cerebral knowledge, the answer is adequate. But does it not concede too much to a philosopher who disowns the idea of causality, yet is here building his whole argument upon it ? The mental series of changes must not, it seems, be admitted to separate study and reduction to law, because they are derivative from the cerebral : if they were only constantly parallel, they would have a right to form a science of their own. Suppose that we had reached perfect knowledge of the brain, and could read and register every molecular movement in its exact time-relation to the changes in our consciousness : what would be the difference, in the absence of causation, of a derivative series and a parallel series ? Invariable antecedence and sequence being all that we have on hand, we cannot speak of any one term producing, or foiling to produce another that follows it, whether in the same line or in its counterpart : the whole account must run in terms of Time. The story than would come out as follows : Let A, B, C represent three consecutive molecular changes in the brain ; and a, fi, 7 the three corresponding feelings. Then, on the occurrence of A, follows B, so C follows so so
Now the only way of determining to what series the several items belong is to find their 'immediate' or 'proximate' antecedents, and to link together the terms thus selected as coming under the cognisance of the same science. Let us trace the working of this rule. A is proximately followed by B, say, in a second : it is also followed by a, also, let us say, in a second. B is similarly followed, in another second, by C, and by P. 0 therefore is jest one second removed from both a and B, which will therefore have, by the rule of proximity, to quarrel for possession of it; and the same dispute will arise between /3 and C, and so on all along the series. Nor will the case be mended by assuming an interval between the two sequents (physical and mental) upon the molecular change. If you put the cerebral consequent first, you make it the proximate antecedent of the mental which belongs to its predecessor : if the mental comes first, it is turned into proximate antecedent of the next physical ; and the two series fall into cross purposes throughout ; and the passage in time-succession is just as frequent from the mental to the physical as from the physical to the mental. The truth is, Comte's absorption of psychology into physiology not only rests entirely on the causality which he repudiates, but gives it action from the material to the mental while withholding it from the inverse direction. What he really thinks, is this,—that the molecular change produces its thought change, while no thought change produces either another or any molecular. And yet the time-order is exactly the same as would be required by the causal law when out down to the rule of invariable sequence."
Here we must take leave of Dr. Martineau's first volume, the purely historical volume, though we are deeply sensible how little justice we have done to its minute and accurate learning, and its vivid and picturesque exposition. No review could, indeed, give any adequate conception of such a book as this.